Rust and Bone

rust and bone Cotillard

Judging from Jaques Audiard’s previous films, A Prophet and  The Beat My Heart Skipped, it would be unwise to go into Rust and Bone expecting lighter fare.

 Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a bullish street fighter moves himself and his son from Belgium into his estranged sister’s garage in France hoping to make something of himself as a street fighter. He is more like a bullying older brother than a father to his young son and drifts along with bit part security jobs and casual sex. Through his job as a nightclub bouncer he encounters Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard), an orca trainer. Who has been in a fight in the club. He drives her home and things get off to a rocky start. This uncomfortable first meeting reveals a tentative spark of chemistry amidst the prickly conversation in which he tells her ‘you dress like a whore’.

 After this encounter weeks go by when Ali suddenly receives a call from her. Having been in a horrific workplace accident in which she has lost both of her legs she seeks him out in an attempt to avoid the pitying expressions she encounters everywhere else. The kind of brutal honesty he displayed when they first met is what she needs and his lack of sensitivity is refreshing for her. Like with her whales, she is drawn to his primal nature and his strength. They form a friendship through this mutual recognition of each other’s suffering and she draws out his softer side so long hidden behind his fists.

 The CG is used to alarming effect, not to show explosions and spaceships but to make a completely human story utterly believable which is essential to the story. So convincing are the effects you may be mistaken in thinking Cotillard went Daniel Day-Lewis levels of method and underwent a double leg amputation.

Marion Cotillard is a marvel once again and her performance is beautifully vulnerable, defiant and completely mesmerising, the scene where she returns and views the Orca through the glass of the tank is stunning. Schoenaerts is also excellent, though his character is often so intensely unlikeable it is initially difficult to empathise with him.


 The view on disability is also an angle rarely seen in cinema. It’s not about the hopelessness of her situation or overcoming adversity, Stephanie actually becomes more complete after losing so much. She rediscovers so much about herself and the first time she and Ali sleep together just to ‘see if she can still do it’ is incredibly poignant as well as sensual as she rolls down her prosthetic ‘stockings’. It’s somehow incredibly intimate despite Ali’s emotional handicap.

 Audiard manages to avoid the melodrama that could easily be swept up with a story containing such adverse circumstances but its feet are firmly on the ground, remaining all the more powerful for it. The ending may be somewhat contrived but the events finally cause Ali to reassess his selfishness and see the value in his life, namely his son, he learns not to take anything for granted, a feeling that much of the audience will share as the credits roll.

 Verdict: ***

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